COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Gov. Nikki Haley says South Carolina's public colleges should be judged on their graduation rates, how many of their students come from outside of the state, and their contributions to the economy.
The Republican governor said Tuesday she has asked college leaders to help develop a new way to fund higher education. Their homework includes providing her office with data on the percentage of students who graduate within six years.
Haley appeared outside her office backed by the brain trust of the state's colleges and universities. She says all have embarked on a new effort to provide her with information ranging from graduation rates and class sizes to job placement.
From that, she says, will come a better idea of which schools are performing well and a revised funding formula. "When we look at those measurables, we can start to get a consistency to the way we fund education, regardless of whether someone likes their football team or whether they graduated from there," said Haley. "But we can actually look what works for the people of this state."
"She wants to specifically tie funding to performance," said Ken Wingate of the Commission on Higher Education. "And she has asked that they provide recommendations as to different measures that she should consider. So it is a dialogue but on a fast track that she has put before the presidents."
Higher-ed leaders seemed to like Haley's approach. "Accountability and transparency and quality can all co-exist in South Carolina," said Clemson University President James Barker.
The state and its institutions are grappling with grim budgetary scenarios. One school leader taking part in Tuesday's session with the governor has additional challenges.
Over the past year, South Carolina State University President Dr. George Cooper has been under fire from trustees, faculty members and a state senator who have expressed lack of confidence in his performance.
Haley refused to take sides on that issue. "I am not going to look at political distractions," she said. "What I am going to look at is the numbers that South Carolina State shows with these measurables. That's what I care about. I think that what we are seeing is a lot of political rhetoric going back and forth."
At least two members of the Orangeburg legislative delegation said Cooper's presidency will survive, allowing him to continue working with Haley's agenda. "He has my vote of confidence," said Rep. Bakari Sellers. "Given these times right now I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. And watch him lead and move this college and university forward."
College leaders say they are encouraged by the new tone.
Former Gov. Mark Sanford had long chastised colleges for raising tuition rates. But college presidents say he never met with them as Haley did.
Haley says colleges are critical to the state's economy, and she wants to support them while providing more accountability.
Haley expects to meet again with those top officials in higher education in about a month. In the meantime, while she waits on information that could determine a new funding formula, the governor has asked lawmakers to delay any action on a proposal to cap tuition increases.